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The Invisible Truth: The Happening

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Happening

I went to see The Happening last night, courtesy of my rockin' dentist Arthur Kamin who gives me a $25 cineplex gift card every time I refer a client to him. Of course, I read the NOW magazine review first, and in hindsight, after having seen the movie, I wonder how in tarnation the reviewer missed the parodic elements of this movie. Not a new concept: this is obvious. It follows close on the heels (run for the hills!) of other apocalypse movies such as Cloverfield, 28 days later, 28 Weeks Later, The Mist, The War of the Worlds, and others. But really, who cares about originality when you can have knowing winks, intentionally flat acting to make you wonder what's the real difference between the zombies and the normals (there's none, really), and overly dramatic music that contrapuntally lambastes the banal repartee.

M. Night Shymalan has crafted an underhanded classic in my opinion. All the "bad aspects" of the film, he has somehow recuperated into a work of subtle parody. The NOW reviewer complained of a lack of story. What apocalypse movie has a "story." It's the end of the world for chrissake. People go crazy. Narrative loses its importance in the face of mere survival. The randomness of the beginning and end of this environmental crisis complements the vagueness of the title. Those that survive, like in 28 days later, have to reform the family unit along non-biological lines. While Shymalan breaks the rules of the apocalypse film by refusing to divulge the true cause of it, among the many explanations given, he favours one with a Janus-faced nature: one of ecological catastrophe, and a flaky, but grand plant response to imminent ecological catastrophe. It is telling that Shymalan opposes this explanation to the government conspiracy theory at the end, as shown on a TV debate between an expert warning of human hubris and a host who sides with the government conspiracy explanation, taking a facile fourth estate position. This is basically a confrontation between current left and right political tendencies. The left urges responsible ecological business practises, while ultimately, any conspiracy theory ends up serving the purposes of the Right, by making the government seem more omnipotent than they actually are.

I give "The Happening" three and a half out of five stars. Even though some people were complaining about it after the movie let out, it made people laugh with both ridiculous banalities and over-the-top gore, and at points it freaked them out. That said, Shymalan should stop trying to be Alfred Hitchcock. He's good, but he'll never live up to the master... Both this movie and The Mist owe a heavy debt to The Birds. Luckily, The Happening comes out on the correct and true side of the political spectrum, whereas The Mist has some disturbing rightest tendencies.

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